I recently listened to a talk given by Brian Lunduke about problems that GNU/Linux are currently facing. In it (roughly 26m48s into the video) he mentions that keynote presentation time slots are being purchased by companies at GNU/Linux conferences. That is, companies are paying the conferences in order to get to be keynote speakers at said conferences.

This made me think, does this kind of thing happen in the academic world too? Are there serious conferences (that is, not the type of conferences we so often get spam emails about) where some or all of the keynote talks have been chosen due to some company/organisation/person paying the conference money in order to get their person to speak there? If so, is this disclosed to the conference participants in any reasonable way?

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    What about research? is there research funded by companies where the funding depends on the "right" result???
    – Solar Mike
    Dec 13, 2018 at 9:52
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    I've heard the reverse: Famous keynote speakers are paid an honorary and travel costs to give them an incentive to participate.
    – henning
    Dec 13, 2018 at 10:05
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    @henning Isn't that standard?
    – user2768
    Dec 13, 2018 at 11:13
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    @user2768 that's what I thought, but not what OP has heard.
    – henning
    Dec 13, 2018 at 11:18
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    Mostly, only expenses are paid to an invited speaker (plus the occasional dinner). Opposed to that, the conferences that seem to offer significant perks (informed hearsay, but hearsay nonetheless, therefore not a response!) are medical/pharmaceutical ones. Dec 13, 2018 at 11:56

3 Answers 3


Some conferences exchange corporate sponsorship for various perks. Those perks may include a keynote speaking slot. Thus,

  • This kind of thing happens in academia.
  • Perhaps more so at serious conferences, because those conferences are more attractive to sponsors.

Perks may be advertised, e.g., on web pages soliciting sponsorship. Hence,

  • This may be disclosed to conference participants.
  • But, possibly not in a reasonable manner, since participants would need to discover sponsorship perks.

Some perks may be privately negotiated, without disclosure to conference participants.


In Computer Science, I think this is fairly rare at "quality" academic conferences. Most reputable conferences decouple the keynote choice from the sponsorships. That being said, I was once involved in a conference as an organizer, where someone else suggested that if company X sponsored it, they could be invited to give a keynote. I hit the roof. But it's evidence that some people do play that game.


Many Most (if not all) conferences rely on corporate sponsorship.

It is frequently a condition of a sponsoring company that such sponsorship gains them a speaking slot... or alternatively, that a given speaker's invitation is conditional on their company sponsoring the event.

So, quite simply, if a speaker is affiliated with an event sponsor it is likely that there is a connection.

Source: I'm quite a regular conference speaker...

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    I don't think this is true for non-applied fields. Which company would sponsor a conference in philosophy, comparative linguistics, sociology, or Japanese literature? I know from experience that conferences in political science are funded by professional associations and participation fees. Company sponsorship is negligible.
    – henning
    Dec 13, 2018 at 10:02
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    for example publishers Dec 13, 2018 at 10:21
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    "Most (if not all) conferences rely on corporate sponsorship" is plainly false for a field such as mathematics.
    – Dan Fox
    Dec 13, 2018 at 10:28
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    I take the point... post tweaked :-)
    – Andrew
    Dec 13, 2018 at 10:55
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    A reputable conference in CS would not do this, even though we have corporate sponsorship. What it gets them is space on the demo floor and a few tickets/passes so that their employees have access to talks and such. They also get publicly thanked at the opening and closing by the conference chair as well as showing up on advertising for the conference. But employees of some companies are also researchers (Google, Apple, ...) and so may have made submissions separate from sponsorship. Or possibly (rarely) even asked to keynote. I've heard both Steve Jobs and Mitch Kapor, for example.
    – Buffy
    Dec 13, 2018 at 12:04

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